An Ode to Roots (JB)

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julianabjornsdottir_dlYou could say I had the ideal upbringing. I grew up in a lovely one-storey house with plenty of garden space, a large veranda and parents who gave my sisters and I a loving, carefree childhood.

Two hundred meters away was a beach known as Langisandur (‘Long Beach’) that would have been even more wonderful had it not been for the cold climate. I can count on one hand the number of times I went down to the beach to play in the sand,swim in the sea, and enjoy proper summer temperatures.

Now with warmer summers I am told it’s finally starting to live up to its potential. The golden sand and the blue-green sea are a paradise on a summer’s day. Both my husband and I have taken a dip and it was lovely, albeit cold. You can’t expect summer temperatures such as those in the rest of Europe but we make the most of it.

Akranes was a nice place to live. We had playgrounds, an area forested enough to play hide-and-seek and make up all sorts of stories about ghosts and serial killers before running home in the dark, proximity to Reykjavík to which we could take a ferry back and forth, and Akrafjall, a mountain said to be all that was left of a troll that was too late to hide away from the sun on its way back to a cave.

The town was the kind of place where you could play past midnight on the warmest of days during summer—and in the light of day! The curfew was actually 10 pm but in such a small town back in the 1980s, we felt safe. In winter we had to be home by 8 pm but some days we could stay out a little bit later.

The coastline was mostly rocks and small cliffs with the exception of Langisandur and small coves I only discovered later. The sunsets are breathtaking.

Like a painting on the horizon, the orange, scarlet, lavender, pink and all the shades in-between are strewn across the skies. Even on days when the sea is violent, almost so that I can imagine a whole new surface forming under the foam on the face of rocks that fall prey to its awesome power. Eerie but beautiful under a veil of thick clouds with gray subtle shades of black shadows. But on the best of days the glacier Snæfellsjökull  is visible.

Back then, I never considered the town to be beautiful. The architecture was simplistic and without reverence. The center was and still essentially just one street. As a teenager in the 1990s it was the place to socialize. We’d walk back and forth hoping to join friends for a few circles around the block.

Cruising back and forth was a way of life and the local ‘rúntur’ (cruise) through the center was always good fun, especially once you had your driver’s license.

Romance was born in car seats for so many of the people I grew up with. That was a date. If you got the front seat he probably liked you.

I was always the silent observer. I watched people come to my dad’s late night diner stuffing themselves with sweets, junk food and ice-cream, and blasting their parents’ speakers.

I didn’t mind the work and the apparent lack of social life. I had friends enough with whom I’d hang out.We would watch Jared Leto on This is My Life, and watch films like Fear with hunky Marky Mark (Mark Wahlberg) and the late Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing.

We weren’t popular or part of the social scene. We didn’t quite fit into the hierarchy of popular teen culture, or perhaps we just thought that was the case. But my memories with friends are fond ones and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In Akranes, like so many small towns, family is at the forefront. A few of the girls fell pregnant while in high school, a few right out of high school and some others after university. Most had children by the age of 23.

But my head was already up in the clouds dreaming of distant destinations I’d visit with but a backpack, passport and enough money to get by. I had dreams of seeing every corner of the world and learning to speak at least half a dozen languages. I wanted to study literature in Oxford and Cambridge and make a living as a travel writer. Nothing mattered more than traveling and fulfilling all my dreams.

During my years of traveling, I’d occasionally return to Akranes and spend a few months with my parents while I made enough money to leave again. I didn’t make time for much else but work so little time was spent catching up with old friends and watching the sunsets.

After years of travels and living here and there, I finally returned to Akranes for one last visit. I’d just gotten married and my husband and I needed to stay with my parents while we made a bit of money to get our own place and settle his immigration affairs.

The experience allowed me to see the town in a new light. I saw it as a town that had blossomed in the years I was away. It became a greener place and real effort was made to clean it up.

The community like so many others in Iceland, fell victim to unrealistic expectations and since the crisis came to town, a number of apartments and houses are empty in new areas that were meant to be thriving new neighborhoods. Like ghost towns, just prettier.

Langisandur is as lovely as ever (apart from a horrendous indoor training facility planted on the beach front); the old lighthouse is as charming as before and even the old wooden racks there nearby, once used for stockfish, hold an invisible charm.

Residential Akranes is my past, not my present or my future. But I am no longer blind to the town’s hidden charms. I plan to swim in the invisible coves on the town borders, and hike up the belly of our petrified troll that is Akrafjall when summer draws near.

Júlíana Björnsdóttir – julianabjornsdottir@gmail.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.